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According to BBC News, buyers and sellers on ebay will no longer, from May, be able to leave neutral or negative feedback.

EBay claims that negative comments were slowing down trade and leading to other problems because those given negative feedback often retaliated by with their own negative feedback.

As anyone who has ever – as I have – been given negative feedback unfairly following an ebay transaction knows, there is no effective arbitration process making if almost impossible to get ebay to step in and take some responsibility for resolving the dispute.

So rather than pumping resource into fixing the process, ebay has chosen to make it impossible for users leave anything but positive feedback. It’s a shame. Not only do many ebay users find the feedback helpful in both determining who to enter into transactions with, the threat of negative feedback can be a useful sanction and can often nudge the other party in the trade into paying up or belated posting an item.

I realise that arbitrating in trader disputes is time and resource intensive and have personally wasted many days of my own productivity dealing with problematic message board users and online community members. But it is part of the service that users expect, particularly when, as is the case with ebay, selling items does actually incur a charge. So here’s two ideas that would fix ebay’s arbitration process:

1. Paid intervention: Buyers and sellers on ebay both have an interest in keeping their feedback ratings high and comments positive. Why not offer each party the ability to pay a nominal fee, perhaps £2, for ebay to look into the situation and make a judgement. Once judgement had been made, notes from the "case" could be added to the feedback profiles of those involved. If one party refused to assist the ebay arbitrator, then both parties would see their negative comments removed and a note explaining that there was an offer of arbitration that was refused could be added instead.

2. User arbitration panel: Volunteer buyers and sellers on ebay could arbitrate on ebay’s behalf. This is probably more agreeable, and sustainable, than the above so long as volunteering could be somehow be rewarded with incentives, perhaps reduced selling fees or special account designations that gave them some prestige within ebay.

Regardless of whether either of these ideas would be truly workable once ebay got into the details, switching off the ability for all users to leave negative comments simply because a minority of users misuse the functionality isn’t likely to go down to well with regular buyers and sellers who find the feedback feature a useful tool.

[Note: Correction made to original post - thanks to Niall Cook for pointing out that the BBC article says only sellers will no longer be allowed to give negative or neutral feedback.]

Cybersoc by Robin Hamman
With over 13 years of professional experience in the digital and social media industry, and a client portfolio that includes some of the World's most recognisable brands and organisations, I've built a reputation internationally as a leading practitioner in the industry.

3 Comments:


  • By Niall Cook / 06 Feb 2008 /

    Just a clarification: the BBC article says that it is only sellers – not buyers – that would be stopped from leaving negative feedback.

  • By WandaLou McInturff / 06 Feb 2008 /

    One of the serious flaws with the current e-bay feedback system is that it asks the buyer if they have communicated with the seller. We have been left only one withdrawn feedback within our Native American fabric store, but that person had to say yes in order to complete the process, when in fact the first time we knew of this person’s presumed dissatisfaction came with their negative stating our product was false advertising. The product itself was fabric with the LOOK of Native American beadwork. Described in this same manner and selling for only $6.00 per yard, the person purchased one yard and then filled negative saying that they expected real Native American Beadwork for that price. E-bay had me research the person’s name and call them; show them the original pages where two times the item was described as “with the LOOK of”; and although that was withdrawn mutually, the person’s words remain within our feedback. Unless a truly disatisfied customer contact’s the seller so that all avenues can be taken to resolve any problems, then negative feedback will be used as a threshold over the sellers.
    If a person walked up to you on the street and offered you the same items that you are purchasing on e-bay, would you buy them? The only people we have had problems with are those which have not written to us in advance and come to know us. We have a 72% return client selling base and ship around the world.
    Our secondary problem is that e-bay’s PayPal can now deem whether a transaction is “risky” or not, and can withhold payment to the seller until the buyer receives the product and files a positive. E-bay’s PayPal is currently holding for 7 days, those cash funds withdrawn from a buyer’s bank account because the buyer does not have a debit or credit card listed as a secondary back up source of funding. Generally the debit card would be issued on the same money within the same bank that PayPal had withdrawn the cash from. During that 7 days PayPal generates income from those cash withheld and those earnings are not paid to the Seller, who could have invested those money’s themself WITH earning.
    It is no wonder that so many of USA e-bay sellers have been joining a STRIKE that will ensue Feb 18-25th where money’s are pulled from PayPal and stores are closed or shut-down.

  • By Anonymous / 05 Jun 2008 /

    Ebay has this option:
    Block buyers who:
    Don’t have a PayPal account
    Have received 2 Unpaid Item strike(s) within 1 Month(s).
    Are registered in countries to which I don’t ship
    Have a feedback score of -1 or lower
    Are currently winning or have bought 2 of my items in the last 10 days
    Due to the change in the feedback system it is no longer possible for buyers to have have a feedback of -1.
    Their feedback can only increase.
    In this way we the sellers can no longer block those individuals who in the future would and should have a negative one or even less.
    Ebay is aiding fraudulent or dishonest buyers to defraud sellers.

About Robin Hamman

I've been helping some of the World's most widely recognised brands and organisations devise and implement strategic digital and social media programmes since 1999.

I'm currently the EMEA Digital Network Lead at Fleishman Hillard. I've previously held a variety of roles including Managing Director of Dachis Group Europe, Director of Digital at Edelman, Head of Social Media at Headshift, Acting Editor of the BBC Blogs and Executive Producer at ITV.

In addition to my day job, I help my wife run an online retail business selling wool blankets - if you're feeling chilly, check out JustSheep.co.uk

I hold a BA in Education, MA in Sociology, MPhil in Communication Studies and a PgDip in Law. I've also been a Non-Residential Fellow at Stanford University Law School and a Visiting Fellow of Journalism at City University, London.

Why cybersoc.com? In 1995, I tried to register, for the purposes of researching "ordinary users", the username Cybersociologist on AOL. They truncated my name and I stuck with it....

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